CHICAGO -- It was another typical 2012 Wrigley Field crowd Sunday and a typical Chicago Cubs effort -- decent but with conspicuous bare patches.
While the Chicago White Sox headed south with some momentum following their three-game sweep in the first of two crosstown series, the Cubs had simply notched their sixth straight loss, their fans left with the same gnawing emptiness they are expected to tolerate for the unforeseeable future.
There are no real surprises here that in late-ish May, the Cubs are scraping the bottom of the National League Central with one of the worst records in baseball. We knew it was going to be this way, didn't we? But after being handled as easily as the White Sox made it look this weekend, you get the feeling that Cubs fans, still showing up in respectable if not sellout numbers, did not necessarily think it would feel quite this bad quite this soon.
You have to hope Anthony Rizzo is prepared to shoulder some mighty big expectations whenever he makes the trip from Des Moines, which could come as soon as the next few weeks.
It isn't fair, of course. As talented as he is, Rizzo should be allowed some ups and downs as he continues in his development. Based on his previous experience, when he hit .141 in his first 128 major league at-bats for the San Diego Padres last summer, there is no guarantee he won't struggle again, even after tearing up Triple-A.
But at least Rizzo should feel at home when he gets here as the Cubs continue to trot out Triple-A lineups like the one that fell 6-0 to the Sox on Sunday, a batting order that starting pitcher Jake Peavy had to look over with spittle on his chin.
Indeed, Peavy, coming off a particularly rough outing Wednesday, zipped through 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits while striking out seven. Sox hitters, meanwhile, excited Sunday morning to walk out of the visitors dugout and see the center-field flags whipping about in an outgoing direction, touched Cubs starting pitcher Paul Maholm for five earned runs on nine hits over the same 6 1/3.
"You know Peavy is going to be tough," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, "he's one the best pitchers in the league. But with the wind the way it was blowing, you thought [we'd] have some contact get a solo home run or something."
Instead, it was the Sox with three solo home runs: Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn going back-to-back in the fourth (after Dayan Viciedo and A.J. Pierzynski did it Saturday night) and Tyler Flowers, starting in place of Pierzynski, going deep in the fifth.
You had to feel for them. Watching Rizzo should be entertaining and it is clearly time for him to take over first, at which time he'll likely bump Bryan LaHair to right, David DeJesus to center and Tony Campana to the bench.
"He's got to play every day," Sveum said of Rizzo before Sunday's game.
But after the game and after his team failed to score a single run off Sox starters in three games, Sveum said he plans to shake things up at the top three spots in the lineup. "Just to change something," he said.
The upcoming draft will be big for Epstein & Co. And as much as Cubs fans would like to see LaHair and Rizzo together in the lineup, you have to think LaHair's rising value makes him a reasonable candidate to be traded.
Brett Jackson hovering in the .230s in Iowa makes you think he needs more time and shouldn't be rushed. But though Cubs management doesn't appear to care much about appeasing fans right now, they also must remember they are a major-market team charging major-market prices, and asking fans to trust them through a rebuilding process is a two-way street.
"We're at about a week stretch of no wins and obviously getting swept by the White Sox at home is about as low as you're going to get through a seven-day stretch," Sveum said. "You hope the fans understand and stay patient the rest of the year."
The rest of the year?